Danub's Last Fisher
director   Niko Remus
camera Uwe Schäfer
sound Geza Demeter
editor   Brigitte Schröder-Zimmermann
length   45 Minuten
format 16mm
broadcasted 1996 ZDF
Fisherman Mayer sets his nets in the early morning light. This time he has maneuvered his boat into a shallow estuary of the Danube that appears promising for a good catch. What feels like some remote jungle is really just one of the little backwaters meandering through the centuries-old flood plains along the last freely flowing stretch of the Danube River in Germany. There are only 70 kilometers left of natural waterway left, between Straubing and Vilshofen. The rest of the river has been dammed up into a chain of almost stagnant pools.

Johann Mayer grew up on this river. As a child he went fishing with his father. He learned the trade from him, just as his father learned it from his father and so on - all the way back to the year 1705. Ever since, the Mayers have fished for a living, here on the Danube, in the wooded flood plains, which are sometimes referred to as Europe's last rain forest.

Back in the days of his grandfather, the fishermen had to earn money some other way during the winter months, so they cut blocks of ice from the river and sold them to the cold storage warehouses in the city. Johann Mayer still has the saw his grandfather used up in the attic. Next to it, are a pair of leather boots that look like someone just put them there. "They're from a time when there were no rubber boots," he says. Things have actually changed for the better since those days. The income from fishing on the Danube is enough to support the Mayer family the whole year.

Johann's son Stefan helps bring in the nets and the catch is cleaned and gutted at home before being taken to market. There are 58 different species of fish on this stretch of the Danube. Like his ancestors, Johann Mayer makes sure he doesn't over-fish and that the differnet species stay in balance. Along the German Danube he is the last of a dying breed of full-time fishermen. Stefan would like to continue in his father's footsteps, but the prospects are anything but good. Plans call for damming up the last open stretch of water on the German Danube. The Rhein-Main-Donau AG, the company that built the controversial Main-Danube Canal, wants to erect two huge lock systems here. The company argues that they are necessary to end the last bottleneck for the commercial river barges.

Johann Mayer, on the other hand, emphasizes that this stretch of river is the last place where the water flows in its own natural bed and where it regularly breaches the river banks. If the locks are built, he says, "the river would no longer be a river, but a reservoir."

Damming up this part of the river would be the end of Mayer's modest fishing business. And something else would happen, too, which Mayer noticed upriver in Straubing where the next dam is. It didn't take long, he said, and the number of fish there declined. In areas where the water is stagnant, sedimentation and algae growth kill off the fish - quietly, invisibly, inexorably.

The contractors, however, have no intention of backing down from their plan, despite widespread criticism. The Rhein-Main-Donau AG is particularly interested in selling the electricity the turbines it plans to install would generate.

In this film, director Niko Remus accompanies Johann Mayer on his forays into the last Danube flood plain in Germany, to the last spawning grounds and beaver lodges in a world that may soon disappear forever.

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